Ninth Square is set to phase in housing next

Lupe Flores, the owner of Fat Cats Cafe in the Ninth Square, said he envisions the thriving downtown district — once a blighted urban landscape — as New Haven’s equivalent of SoHo.

“There is a facelift going down here, and it’s a nice one,” Flores said.

After the Ninth Square Phase I project completed a dramatic makeover of downtown in 1994, Phase II of the project is steadily underway. Plans for the first renovated residential units should materialize within the next several months.

New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said loft apartments will be developed in the old Kresges general store on Church Street that will be ready by the end of this summer. He said development work on historic Crown Street buildings will begin this summer, assuming that a deal between local developer David Nyberg and property owner McCormack Baron goes through.

When complete, Ninth Square Phase II will bring a mix of 221 affordable and market rate residential units, 25,000 square feet of retail ground space, and 138 new parking spaces to downtown New Haven. Phase I brought in 335 new and renovated rental units, 50,000 square feet of commercial space, and over 600 parking spaces. The project stipulates that 40 percent of the residential units are subsidized as affordable housing.

Bialecki said he hopes Phase II will follow the successes of Phase I by restoring historic buildings and bringing in a greater density of people to the area. He said Phase I — which involved the planning, acquisition and development of many vacant properties — improved the Ninth Square tremendously.

“It’s very radically different. You would not recognize it,” Bialecki said.

Over the past several years, the newly-refurbished area has attracted many tenants, as well as successful businesses, including popular restaurants such as Bentara Malaysian Restaurant, Central Steakhouse, Miso Japanese Restaurant, and Fat Cat’s Cafe. Bialecki said at least 500 new people would be moving into the area once all the residential units were built, creating a healthier and safer downtown.

Flores said he has seen more and more people coming to the Ninth Square from places like Chapel and Broadway because they recognize the potential of “restaurant row.” He said he is constantly impressed by the diversity and quality of Ninth Square restaurants and shops. Andrew Allison ’04 said he has been to the Ninth Square several times to eat at Bentara. From his experience, he said it seems like more Yale students are taking advantage of the dining opportunities there.

“There’s more there than people think,” Allison said. “You can certainly see signs of growth.”

Town Green Special Services District Executive Director Scott Healy ’96 said the Ninth Square’s combination of affordable and market rate residential units, as well as retail space, has been one the most successful mixed-use projects in the state. But he said he was disappointed to learn that an integral Phase II building, planned for construction on State and Crown Streets, will include only residential units. He said in order to keep the area vibrant, retail space on the first floor is necessary, especially to attract visitors arriving from the train station and nearby parking lots.

“The more you build, the healthier the overall retail market will become. You don’t want to have a building that’s just a behemoth that interrupts the flow of retail traffic,” Healy said.

Phase II is expected to cost $40 million, and will include a $13.2 million grant from the state.

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